An explosive report released overnight by the US Association of National Advertisers, (members include giants such as Apple, Unilever and Procter and Gamble), claims that many of the world’s biggest ad agencies and their various media-buying and other servicing groups are engaged in taking cash rebates from media companies in print, digital and TV without their clients’ knowledge. Coming on top of rising concerns about the level of fraud in online advertising — such as false user visits or impressions (driven by automated bots), or the placing of ads on inappropriate websites, or poor accountability by programmatic ad exchanges — the ANA will add to the feeling that big advertisers are being taken to the cleaners by the very people who are supposed to protect them.

The ANA said in its report that its investigators had found “pervasive” evidence that agencies are taking cash rebates from media companies without their clients’ knowledge, and that these rebates are being used to boost profits. The claims were denied immediately by some of the six major ad agency groups that dominate global ad agencies and media buying — groups such as WPP, Omnicon and Dentsu Aegis. The report found that some media companies, which it did not name, have been paying these rebates to incentivise agencies to buy a certain amount of ad space on behalf of their clients. The ANA said the findings revealed “a fundamental disconnect in the advertising industry regarding the basic nature of the advertiser-agency relationship”.

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